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Small Joe calls for farmers' unity at Doha

05 December 2012, Swazi OBSERVER

Minister of Tourism and Environment Mduduzi Dlamini has urged players in agriculture and food security to remain focused and collaborate as they call for action on the sector at the United Nations climate negotiations.
Speaking at the fifth Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day (ALL-5) in Doha, Qatar, on Monday, Dlamini said the sector should not lose its sense of urgency but continue to seek action. "At a fundamental level, one of the most significant changes in the past few years has been the increasing recognition of the role of agriculture in climate change adaptation and mitigation," Dlamini told delegates.
He said in countries like Swaziland, poorer farmers were the most affected by the impact of climate change yet they had not been the focus of research, extension and other investments.
"As all of you know and understand, this is not just about agriculture. It is fundamentally about our future as people, as countries," he said. About 600 delegates comprising scientists, farmers, policy makers, non-governmental organisations and researchers at ALL-5 were calling for the prioritisation of agriculture in the climate negotiations.
This makes sense for African countries like Swaziland because more than two thirds of the population depend on agriculture yet this sector is hard hit by the impact of climate change such as drought, floods and storms. While the world population has ballooned to a billion this year, unfortunately food production is going down said Robert Carlson, president of the World Farmers Organisation.
"Climate change and agriculture need to talk to each other and farmers are vey key to the discussions," he said.
The experts argue that, although agriculture is responsible for the emissions that cause climate change, the sector also has the potential of helping farmers adapt.
"This is a very unique sector in that although it poses challenges to the environment but it also provides the solutions," said chief executive officer of the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).
Earlier in the day, delegates learnt with disappointment that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) postponed the discussion of agriculture in the negotiations to next year.
In his speech, Dlamini tried to renew confidence among the delegates, saying they had done a lot to create awareness around agriculture although the pace of change was too slow.
"There are significant areas in which we do not know or understand enough; where actions are not taken and where support for adaptation and mitigation programmes is insufficient," he said.
But this is no time to give up, said Dlamini.
That is why Professor Judy Wakhungu from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change said countries should overhaul their education systems such that agriculture should be introduced very early in the learning process.
"We need to consider what we're teaching our children so that we're more relevant when looking at the food security issue," she said.
She said bringing departments dealing with agriculture and food security under one roof could also help in the harmonisation of policies and sharing information.
"If they're all together under one roof, it would be easy for livestock experts to talk to crop guys," said Wakhungu.
With less than a week of the climate negotiations remaining, the focus is now on 2013 where the players in agriculture continue to call for more action. Dlamini advised the delegates though to start putting in place systems now.
"To allow the discussions in the UNFCCC to move forward, we need to see a work programme on agriculture adopted at this session of the UNFCCC," he said.
He said the work programme would help in fitting in agriculture into other ongoing discussions.
Still hope for negotiators at agrics agenda
Disappointed by the postponement of the agriculture agenda to next year's climate talks, scientists, farmers, researchers and policy makers remain optimistic that the negotiators will eventually see the light.
"The postponement of agriculture in these climate talks is like inviting people to Dinner and telling them that they will eat at a later day," said Dr Tony Simons, the director general at World Agroforestry Centre.
Infuriated by the continued postponement of agriculture in the climate change negotiations, delegates at the Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihood Day 5 (ALL Day5) could not hide their frustration.
"I agriculture is not on the agenda, then the negotiations are a shame and a waste of time," said Dr Mahmound Sohl, the director general at the International Centre for Agriculture in Dry Areas (ICARDA).
More than 70 percent of African economies depend on rain-fed agriculture, making it very difficult to continue producing enough food given the impact of climate change.
After lobbying for agriculture to be made a standalone item in the climate change negotiations for five years, the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP 18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) failed to yield any positive results. Sohl told the 600 delegates gathered at ALL Day-5 held in Doha that food production needs to be increased by 70 percent in the next few years and climate change is not making it easy to intensify the production.
"Already, we're seeing the emergence of new diseases and pests because of climate change. We need more money to go to research so that farmers can get the right information to help them adapt," he said.
The exclusion of agriculture in the negotiations is especially worrying because it is a unique sector that provides all the answers to climate change, said Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network chief executive officer Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda.
"Agriculture has the potential to provide adaptation and also mitigation in climate change," said Sibanda.
Given all the evidence about the importance of the sector in climate change, the executive secretary at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Luc Gnacadja wondered what more needed to be done to make negotiators realise the urgency of bringing up the agriculture agenda.
An instruction to the negotiators to act could speed up the process, said Tony La Vina, an experienced negotiator who started the process from COP1.
"Very few negotiators understood the role of agriculture in climate change and forests when this process started," said La Vina.
He said more needs to be done to bring not just negotiators but also politician up to speed with the issues so that agriculture at the negotiation could be taken to the next level.
Breaking the sad news at the gathering was Qatar chairman of the National Food Security Commission, Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, who said, like most dry lands, his country was under severe food security crisis.
"We're disappointed that agriculture has been deferred to the next COP because to us drinkable water is a precious resource and food security is a major challenge," said Al-Attiya.
He said dry lands covered 40 percent of the planet and that it was home to over two billion people. He said countries should ensure food security was a reality for all irrespective of geographic setting.
One good thing about the climate change negotiations is that it has raised the profile of farmers in decision making. Making this observation was Robert Carlson, the president of World Farmers Organisation (WFO), who said for many years farmers had been marginalised in decision making yet they were the biggest group in resource management.
"I can't think of any period where the farmers' opinion matters except for now," said Carlson. "The reason is simple, everyone is worried about food security."

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